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Reflections on Veggie U. Food Wine Celebration (With Bonus Event Survival Guide)

Posted by CMH Gourmand on July 22, 2012

I have been to countless food related events. Many of them are interchangeable – same food, different venue, different cause. The Veggie U Food Wine Celebration has the elements of many of the events I have been to but the execution and focus on the purpose is a cut above the rest. This farm feast observed its tenth annual installment on July 21st (yes, you missed it). I was happy to be invited as a guest. I have wanted to go for the last four years, but each year I was thwarted by other commitments. Since I first learned about what Veggie U does (back in 2008) I have had an opportunity to visit the farm, meet Farmer Lee Jones, stroll throughout the Chef’s Garden, attend an Earth to Table dinner and I even received a Veggie care package in the mail. So my “grounding” in the organization and the mission was only lacking one piece – the “big show” a.k.a. the Food Wine Celebration.

If you are interested in going next year, it will be in July. Connect with the website, sign up for the mailing list and keep informed of what they are doing, you may just find out how to get an early bird special. The event offers food from over fifty of the top restaurants in the country, a chance to mingle and learn from culinary celebrities, demonstrations, wine tastings, raffles and more. All of that is interesting and for a good cause. Great.

All of the above is well and good, but what makes a difference for me is the attention to details. Each guest gets a program which includes a map showing each tasting station, what it has to offer and which restaurant / chef is serving their best. As an added bonus many of the vegetables for the tastes are from the farm. Also included in the program is an agenda, photos of the chefs and bios for the celebrity chefs and presenters. Prior to the event, detailed directions are made available, the place is a bit off the beaten path but an easy drive from Cleveland….a longer, but pleasant drive from Columbus (don’t pass through Crestline on the way). Parking is offered at a nearby business with shuttles taking guests to the farm and running continuously back to the parking lot throughout the night. On the three-minute bus ride, a volunteer briefly explains the purpose of Veggie U. and covers all the details about the event. The volunteers do a great job throughout the evening: they are knowledgeable about the program, the event, they keep trash cans empty and beverage stations full. This year, there was a large mobile bathroom (not a portapotty) with air conditioning. Farmer Lee Jones mingles freely with all of the guests as do all of the culinary dignitaries. The organizers have learned a lot about event planning in ten years and they know how to execute an evening under the stars.

The most important part of the event is that, in a non pushy way, you know what the purpose of Veggie U is and why you are there to support it with your attendance. Reminders continue throughout the night from many sources. Most charity events I go to usually begin with a small note on a piece of paper I am handed as I walk through the door, which I promptly forget and occasionally a long-winded speech at some point in the evening, usually when everyone is ready to do. At Veggie U the purpose is clear and the food is the bonus for showing your support.

So what is it that Veggie U does? It creates a hands on curriculum for fourth grade students, provided free to schools. Through the course of several months, the program teaches healthy nutrition, sustainable agriculture and plant studies which fits into existing requirements and lessons plans for school systems. The kids sow seeds, watch them grow, discuss the planting process and at the end, eat what they grew in salad form. A classroom can receive a kit for $450 and have supplies refilled for the next year for $225. Funds raised at The Food and Wine Celebration as well as the Farm to Table dinners go to cover the costs above. People making donations can direct their contribution to send a kit to a specific school.

Here are some of my tips for this event if you go next year (these can apply to many large events)
1) Get to the site 15 minutes early to avoid the crowds
2) If a member of a group of three of more, direct one member to secure a table as base of operations
3) Take your own notched plate to attach to your wine glass (you can get a sleeve of these at most party stores).
4) Ladies don’t take a purse, it makes maneuvering much easier
5) Heels might look nice but they hurt your feet and make no sense on the grass fields of Veggie U – you will never see the other guests again so don’t worry if people are judging you.
6) Ladies and gentlemen: wear hats. These make you easy to find, become fans quickly when needed and if the hat is expendable….becomes a defacto feedback. Most importantly, hats create additional personal space which is important for outdoor events with lots of people.

At every event I attend, at some point…..well, at many points, my eyes start to roll and my internal need for order and fairness starts to bounce my soul like a bronco rider in a rodeo. If everyone would take a ten minute training session on my proper etiquette for public events which involve more than three people….the world….at least my world, would be a much better place. Please read the public service announcement below and share with the individuals you know are “those people”. You know who they are. The kind of person who stands in a grocery line for 15 minutes and waits until the transaction is complete before starting to remove a check and filling it out. The kind of people who take thirty bulky packages to the fifteen items or less line. The type of people who use their horns too often and never appropriately. Yes, those people. They go to large events as well and they make the rest of us suffer. Directions for the untrained and clueless are below.

1) If you see a line avoid it or go to the end of line after you identify where the end is.
2) While standing in line….think about what you are going to do when you finally get to the table….plan for how you are going to get the food or wine sampled and then beat it, there are people behind you.
3) Don’t stand, talk, eat or stare blankly into the sky when you are at a serving table….there are people behind you, grab and go.
4) Whatever hilarious joke you have for the server or chef at the table…..they have heard it before – don;t slow down the line, there are people behind you.
5) These samples were plated earlier in the day. If you have a food allergy or dietary issue….there is not much the servers can do for you to change a sample that has been planned, plated and prepared many hours before hand. Move on. Let the people behind you eat instead of trying to recreate a wheel which is trying to roll.
6) If there is not a table for everyone, eat it….and beat it.
7) Identify where the trash cans are, keep tabs on them and use them.
8) Keep your arms, hands, food and drinks close to your chest so as to not spill substances on others.
9) Wearing white or your best outfit to an outside food event is asking for trouble….
10) Approach a sampling table from the right, leave to the left and don’t dawdle. There are people behind you.
11) When moving from point A to point B….keep moving, don’t stop unless you have mounted breaklights and turn signals of your rear end.
12) Don’t block aisles, areas of major or minor traffic patterns….and don’t violate others personal spaces
13) Say excuse me or pardon me when passing others
14) Use your inside voices
15) Bathrooms are for those that need to use them for their intended purpose….these are not for extended cell phone conversations, having philosophical discussions or dawdling around checking your hair…..there are people behind you who need to pee or have problems holding their alcohol. Dump it and hump it.
16) Recycle if you can and if you drop something, pick it up.
17) Say thank you to someone working the event, they rarely get to enjoy what they are doing or eat…until the very end of everything and by then, they just want to go home.

2 Responses to “Reflections on Veggie U. Food Wine Celebration (With Bonus Event Survival Guide)”

  1. Norman said

    Did we have just a wee bit of an issue with a few people, Jim? LOL

    CMH G. Response: Chef, I can say that the attendees at Veggie U. were in good form. As I was leaving, I ran into some compatriots from Columbus and we lamented about large food events in general – so this is not a reflection on Veggie U. (my first series of tips are for people going next year). The suggestions are for the statistically relevant number of people who go to several events yet learn nothing about how to navigate crowds and be aware of common needs.

  2. Susan Woolf said

    If it’s any comfort, there are people like that in the UK. One trick is to stop at the top or bottom of an escalator to compare notes with their friend or get out their travel card.

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